Column: Ray Lewis' makeup was running.

201301202115765150743-p2.jpeg

Column: Ray Lewis' makeup was running.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Ray Lewis' makeup was running.

It was eye black, actually, that dark, oily greasepaint football players smear under their eyes to cut down on glare, but which Lewis has begun using to fashion a fearsome facemask for himself. And somewhere amid all those hugs on the field and a few tears in the locker room, it had already turned into a mess.

Lewis was sitting on a table in the Ravens' training room following a 28-13 win over the Patriots that punched his ticket back to the Super Bowl. He pulled off his gloves first, then the nylon skull cap he wears under his helmet, staring straight ahead, enjoying a quiet moment by himself.

Then Terrell Suggs, his sidekick and fellow linebacker, burst into room bellowing, ``The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl!'' It was as though somebody threw a switch.

``Say it again,'' Lewis looked up and said, just above a whisper.

Suggs complied.

``Again!'' Lewis hissed, a little louder this time, and began clapping his hands over his head in accompaniment.

Then he rubbed his eyes - as if checking to make sure he wasn't just imagining the scene. And just like that, the eyeblack that began the night covering his cheekbones now adorned his chin like a beard.

``We're built a certain way and we've got each other's backs, through it all,'' Lewis said. He savored the moment, remembering how the Ravens left New England a year ago, eliminated in this same AFC championship game after former kicker Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field goal attempt hooked wide left.

``Last year when we walked up out of here, I told them, I said, `We'll be back. Don't hold your heads down because we've got something to finish.' ``

That won't be for two more weeks, at the Super Bowl against the 49ers in New Orleans, but win or lose, Lewis will be finished. A tough guy playing a position where toughness is a given, he defied the odds by lasting 17 seasons and all of them with the same club that drafted him.

Lewis doesn't dominate games the way he used to, crushing running backs and making every tackle sound like it does on a video game. Yet the numbers don't lie, and just as he has throughout Baltimore's improbable run, Lewis led the Ravens in solo tackles and assists, 14 combined on this night. At 37, he's also been on the field for more snaps than any other defender.

Yet Lewis' leadership is more than his stats, more than his awkward dance out of the tunnel, more than the hoarse pregame speeches he gives in the last huddle before leading his teammates onto the field.

``There's so many things you can say about Ray, but the thing you don't see just watching the games is how much work he puts in,'' backup linebacker Paul Kruger said. ``And not just his own business. He wants the kickers to be pros in how they go about their business in practice, the linemen, the skill guys - it doesn't matter to Ray.

``A lot of guys outside this locker room have been talking about how we're all playing for Ray, and that's true,'' he continued. ``But playing for Ray means playing for yourself, too, and playing for the team, because that's what he cares about most.

``So yeah,'' Kruger said. ``You could say we're playing for Ray. But what that means to us is that nobody wants to be the guy who lets him down.''

That wasn't a problem Sunday night, at least not once the Ravens took the Patriots' measure. After nosing in front 13-7 by halftime, Baltimore's defense stiffened and held New England scoreless the rest of the way.

``Second half, baby, was 21-0!'' Suggs screamed in the next locker over from Lewis. ``My wife told me, baby, quit watching tape and come to bed, you're going to win by 10. And she was only off by five points!''

Lewis looked over at his teammate and covered his mouth to stop from laughing out loud.

Though it wouldn't hurt, Lewis doesn't need another Super Bowl, let alone another Pro Bowl, to secure his legacy. At least not the football portion of it.

Lewis won the NFL's biggest prize once already, in 2000, and was named MVP in that game to boot. He's been picked for the Pro Bowl 13 times.

But a trip back to the big game will carry echoes of his last trip there, a year after Lewis was charged in a double murder after a Super Bowl party at an Atlanta nightclub a year earlier. Under an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and testified against his two former co-defendants. Neither was convicted, and Lewis eventually reached undisclosed cash settlements with the victims' families.

Lewis worked hard to rebuild his reputation, eventually working his way back into the graces of the NFL. Humbled, he volunteered to speak at rookie orientation sessions and slowly won back the kind of respect that had nothing to do with his play on the field.

``Ray's a guy that's turned everything over,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``He's surrendered everything and he's become the man that he is to this day. He's a different man than he was when he was 22 or 15 or whatever. I think everybody sees that right now. I think it's a great thing for kids to see. It's a great thing for fathers to see. It's a great thing for athletes to see.

``It's,'' Harbaugh said, ``a very special deal.''

---

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

cliffkeenanjulierefframe_1.jpg

AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

Here’s a key AFC North question. Will Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell stay healthy?

Bell is without question one of the league’s most talented backs. However, knee injuries have ended his season the past two years, leaving the Steelers without him when they were eliminated from the playoffs.

De’Angelo Williams did a superb job in place of Bell last season, rushing for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Bell is a better pass receiver and more elusive – capable of turning almost any play in to a big play. In 2014, Bell had over 2,000 yards combined from scrimmage – 1,316 yards rushing and 854 yards receiving.

Bell doesn’t want to be labeled as injury-prone, yet some people already view him that way. But at Steelers OTA’s, Bell showed up looking healthy, while vowing not to run cautiously next season.

“I’m going to be physical,” Bell told ESPN.com. “I’m out here with no knee brace or anything, didn’t wear a sleeve or anything. I’ve been training my knee for everything I’m about to go through, so when September gets here I’ll be even better than I am now. That’s even crazy to think about. But I’m excited.”

When Bell has been healthy, putting up numbers has not been a problem. The more Bell plays next season, the better the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs.

Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

ronniestanleybrentminicamprefframe_1.jpg

Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

If the NFL had an All-Academic team, Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel would be on it.

In February, Urschel began the Ph.D program in mathematics at MIT. How’s he doing so far? Here’s a hint. When it comes to grades, Urschel is only familiar with one letter in the alphabet.

“My first semester in school in nearly three years,” Urschel wroter on Twitter. “Four PhD classes at MIT. Four A’s. The streak continues!!!”

Entering his third season with the Ravens, Urschel has found a way to juggle his love for football with his love for mathematics. He posted an interesting article on The Players Tribune this week in which he described training with the football team at MIT this spring.

“I probably had about 50 or 60 pounds on the biggest guy on MIT’s O-line,” Urschel wrote. “But when we ran, they put me to shame. They could outsprint me.

“What I found is that the team at MIT is no joke. It is a football team – in some ways, more of a football team than any I’d ever seen. These guys love football. They are playing the game because they want to. No one is making them come to practice, no one is checking up on them. They know as well as anyone about head injuries; they know that football is dangerous; they know the feeling of exhaustion and pain. They still play. They don’t do it for money, and they don’t do it for status.

“We talk about dedication and passion in the pros, but the truth is, sometimes the game feels like a job. You start to think of the paycheck. You feel the grind. But training with the team at MIT, I started thinking about what had drawn me to football as a kid. It felt like a game again. I had thought I might have something to teach the team. I never imagined they’d have so much to teach me.”

That guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials might be the most interesting man in the world. But Urschel has built a strong resume as the most interesting player on the Ravens.

RELATED: NFL ANNOUNCES LOCATIONS FOR 2019, 2020 AND 2021 SUPER BOWLS

NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

dystl052316refframe_1.jpg

NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

The NFL has decided on the locations of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls. The vote took place at the NFL owners meetings in Charlotte on Tuesday. 

Atlanta will host Super Bowl LIII in 2019, while South Florida (Miami) will get the event in 2020 and Los Angeles will host in 2021. 

The cities chosen each included new or upgraded stadiums in their pitches to the league. 

Atlanta will be home to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opening in 2017. 

Miami's stadium (Sun Life Stadium from 2010-2016) is undergoing a $400 million renovation that will include an open-air canopy to provide shade for 92 percent of seats, according to Sports Illustrated. Construction should be complete before the 2017 season. 

And Los Angeles will boast a new 300-acre, campus-style stadium housing the Rams and potentially a second team. The $2.6 billion project will be the most expensive sports arena in the world, reports CNN, and should be ready before the 2019 NFL season.